“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” - Hippocrates

 Natural Herbal Remedies

Using herbal remedies, or herbalism, for curing ailments and using herbs for health is not new. Healing herbs have been used throughout the centuries, since man walked this earth, and continued to do so up until about 100 years ago when man's greed for the dollar has been such that any mention of an alternative medicine to the powerhouse of drug companies is up for bad press and putting the fear of God into people who are wanting to be responsible for their own health.

Don't be intimidated by these bullies who don't have your interest at heart. Whose conventional medicine will cause more side effects than taking any natural herbs will.

About 70% of the world's population rely on herbal medicine, and even as recently as 1940 most first world countries had up to 50% of their prescriptions contained herbal medicine.

The Ancient Greeks used common herbs such as parsley and thyme for a whole range of maladies. French peasants collected herbs and plants from the forests and hedgerows to use as medicine, and medieval monks cultivated large herb gardens to use both as medicine and to use in their kitchens.

In the 21st century we have begun to rediscover these medicinal properties of herbs, and many are using them in their every day diets, and as their first step to general wellness.

Here are just a few of the individual herbs that now have a good body of evidence to support their use for different conditions.

  • Echinacea: Shown to boost white blood cell count and support immune function.
  • Garlic: Proved to lower ‘bad’ (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol  and shown to be effective in reducing the severity and duration of colds and flu.
  • Ginger: Found to help prevent or reduce travel sickness, morning sickness, and nausea associated with chemotherapy.
  • Ginkgo Biloba: Found to improve memory and blood circulation.
  • Hawthorn: Shown to support circulation and heart function.
  • Peppermint: Found to ease digestive irritation.
  • Saw Palmetto: May play a role in preventing prostate enlargement.
  • St John’s Wort: An effective anti-depressant. In Germany it is said that doctors prescribe this more often than anti-depressant medication to treat depression.

And through this natural remedies website you will see that there are many more examples of how alternative medicine really works.

A wicker basket filled with lavender

Lavender is a wonderful health herb that is an important essential oil in aromatherapy and is a good herbal remedy for headaches.

Are Herbal Remedies Risk Free?

The answer is no, they aren't. However, when I read the side effects of conventional medicine, I sometimes wonder why people buy and take these at all! However, we are lulled into thinking that if it is on the market it must be safe, right? Wrong.

I was brought up in the time of Thalidomide, a widely prescribed "safe" drug for women suffering from morning sickness. It was only after a high number of defective births where children were born without arms and/or legs that it was hastily withdrawn from the marketplace.

There are some herbs that you would not give to children, pregnant women, or women breast-feeding. There are others that you wouldn't give to people suffering from certain pre-existing conditions.

Just because you are taking a plant that grows naturally, doesn't mean that you still don't have to exercise caution when using it. You need to make sure that you have:

1) Identified the correct herb if you are wildcrafting; wild parsley and wild parsnip also look remarkably similar to hemlock!

2) Research whether it is safe to take for your situation

When Not to Take Herbal Remedies

Although herbs are far safer in self-treatment than allopathic, or conventional medicine, there are some instances, when you should not take certain herbs, especially if you are either pregnant, breast feeding or taking other medication. There are also some herbs that you should never take.

  • Belladonna, for example is poisonous
  • Ginkgo biloba, which has a blood-thinning effect, should not be combined with other blood-thinning medication.
  • St. John’s Wort isn’t recommended for use at the same time as anti-depressant medication or drugs for asthma or high blood pressure and has been found to interact with the contraceptive pill and make it less effective.

However, if you’re already taking one of these herbs and medications simultaneously don’t simply stop taking the herb because this can cause dangerous increases in blood levels of the drug you’re taking. Instead, consult your GP or a herbalist as soon as possible for advice.

Herbal Remedies and Pregnancy

In general pregnant women should never take any herbs unless they have spoken to their doctors. The main reason behind this is that many herbs can cause a miscarriage. Here is a list of the main herbs to avoid, however, this is not a finite list:

balsma pear
barberry root bark
cascara sagrada
Chinese angelica
juniper berries
mountain mint

Herbal Remedies Side Effects and Allergies

Just like conventional medicine, one can also have side effects from taking herbal medicine, although there are very few cases of this, by comparison. However, it is the rare case, when it does happen that Big Pharma then jump on the bandwagon giving herbs a bad press.

If you are taking the herb for the first time, be more observant about your body and how you feel. If you have an unpleasant reaction to it, you feel dizzy, nauseous or have a headache, cut back on your dosage or stop taking the herb. Go back to your herbal doctor and discuss your reactions with him or her. If you have taken the herb and feel breathless shortly afterwards, call your emergency services immediately. Some people can be allergic to certain chemicals in the herbs.

No matter whether you are on medical anti-depressants or on a herbal anti-depressant like St. John's Wort, becareful to avoid certain foods. While taking MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibators) like St. John's Wort it is important to limit tyramine in your diet. Tyramine is a breakdown product of protein amino acids. Tyramine is a circulation stimulant. If foods high in tyramine are eaten, adverse effects may occur such as:

Facial flushing
Feelings of Nausea
Heavy Sweating
Elevated blood pressure

Because of this, don't eat the following foods which are high in tyramine:

  • beer, wine, sherry, liqueurs, hard alcohol
  •  aged cheese, but ricotta, cottage and cream cheese is fine
  • Only one serving per day of soups, gravies or sauces, and avoid miso soup completely
  •  Caviar, tofu, canned meats, smoked or pickled fish, fermented sausage including frankfurters, beef  liver, chicken livers
  • Avoid fava or any broad Italian been types
  • Sauerkraut
  • Fermented soy beans
  • New Zealand spinach
  • Soy sauce, teryaki sauce, meat extracts like marmite, marmate, and Brewer's yeast supplements
  • Canned and dried figs, avocado, raisins, bananas and any overripe fruit

Don't Expect Miracles Overnight

Many people who try herbal remedies will toss them aside after a day or two saying that it didn't work. Using herbs for healing takes time. You may not get any relief from your symptoms for a couple of days, sometimes even longer. However, you will eventually get relief.

And then there are those remedies that work straightaway and will work a lot quicker than expected. It all depends on the type of herb used, the severity of the illness and the response time of the individual to the treatment.

There are also instances when you find that the person gets worse while taking the herbal remedy before they get better. Thankfully, this doesn't happen too often, and the situation is invariably short lived.

Quick Reference to Healing Herbs for Remedies

         Latin Name                                                                     Medicinal Actions

  • Arnica                  (Arnica Montana)                       Calms and reduces bruises, shock, injury
  • Blackberry           (Rubus villosus)                         Treats sore throats
  • Black cohosh       (Cimicifuga racemosa)              Calms nervous conditions associated with menopause
  • Calendula            (Calendula officinalis)                Heals wounds and skin conditions
  • Catnip                  (Nepeta cataria)                          Encourages good sleep
  •  Chamomile, Ger.(Matricaria recutita)                    Encourages digestion and relaxation
  • Cleavers                (Galium aparine)                        Reduces inflammation
  •  Comfrey              (Symphytum officinale)              Treats bruises, sprains
  •  Crampbark          (Viburnum opulus)                      Relaxes muscles
  •  Dandelion           (Taraxacum officinale)                Diuretic, blood purifier
  •  Echinacea            (Echinacea purpurea)                Stimulates immune system
  •  Elder                     (Sambucus nigra)                       Treats cold symptoms
  •  Fennel                  (Foeniculum vulgare)                  Encourages digestion
  • Feverfew              (Tanacetum parthenium)            Treats migraines, arthritis; increases sense of   well-being
  • Ginger                    (Zingiber officinalis)                    Treats motion sickness and digestive  disturbances
  • Hawthorn              (Crataegus oxyacanthus)          Promotes heart health
  • Hops                       (Humulus lupulus)                       Remedy for insomnia and nervous tension
  • Lemon balm          (Melissa officinalis)                     Controls high blood pressure, migraines, depression Externally—helps herpes.
  • Marshmallow         (Althaea officinalis)                    Treats sore throat, respiratory problems, common cold
  • Mugwort                (Artemisia vulgaris)                     Stimulates digestion, quiets nervous system, anxiety, and stress
  • Mullein                    (Verbascum spp.)                        Treats sore throat
  • Nettle                      (Urtica spp.)                                   Diuretic, liver tonic
  • Oregon grape root                                                        Treats poor appetite, indigestion, bronchitis
  • Peppermint             (Mentha piperita)                          Stimulates digestion, calms nerves 
  • Pennyroyal              (Mentha pulegium)                       Insect repellant, and for delayed menstruation
  • Plantain                   (Plantago lanceolata or P. major) Heal wounds, stings, burns, minor cuts, and infections
  • Raspberry leaves     (Rubus idaeus)                              Useful in treating menstrual issues
  • Red clover                (Trifolium pratense)                       Bronchitis, whooping cough, blood cleanser
  • Rosemary                 (Rosmarinus officinalis)                Headaches, indigestion, stimulates nervous system, and increases circulation
  • Rue                           (Ruta graveolens)                          Reduces hypertension, diabetes, allergic reactions
  • Sage, Clary               (Salvia sclarea)                              Improves eyesight and clairvoyance
  • St. John’s wort        (Hypericum perforatum)                Relieves depression, antiviral, muscle injuries
  •  Skullcap                   (Scutellaria lateriflora)                   Eases muscle tension, sedative, headaches
  •  Valerian                   (Valeriana officinalis)                     Sedative and antispasmodic
  •  Yarrow                     (Achillea millefolium)                     Reduces inflammation

So do Herbal Remedies and Herbal Medicine Work?

Does Herbal Medicine Work

The answer is, yes it does. Herbal plants contain thousands of natural chemicals. It is these natural chemicals that work on the body to heal the problem. You will often find well known, effective pharmaceutical drugs that have isolated one particular chemical component of that herb or plant, and then disregarded the rest of the chemicals. Aspirin, taken from white willow bark is a well known example. However, the chemical L-dopa used for patients with Parkinson's Disease, was isolated from the fava bean.

However, when we use herbal medicine, we never take part of it, after isolating various chemicals. We use the plant in its entirety and appreciate the synergy between the chemicals and value their effectiveness. Celery and celery seeds contain over 24 chemical compounds that aid in protecting you from gout. Garlic, is another that is a great preventative of a number of illnesses, as well as colon cancer. Echinacea, is another well known herb to protect the body against colds and flu by protecting the immune system. A tea made from the autumn berries of the Hawthorn bush is a wonderful tonic for the heart.

And the best of it all, is that by comparison to conventional pharmaceutical drugs, there are few, or no side effects. So why aren't herbs popular in the Western World, like they are in other places? Because unless the drug companies can patent them, or isolate a chemical compound that they can patent, and make money out of them, they are just not interested. Instead, you will find a lot of bad publicity out there, bad mouthing herbal medicine to frighten the public off, who may discover that they really do work, and cost a fraction of the cost. Sometimes free, if you are able to source the herb on your land and prepare the medicine yourself!

Other Pages of Interest

Herbal Remedies for:

By Kathryn Bax

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